Power and performance (on-road, at least) is where the X5 excels. Despite the clunky naming system, all of BMW's powerplants deliver the goods, though some do so better than the rest. New for 2011 is a revamped gasoline six- and eight-cylinder engine lineup, and a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
The base xDrive35i, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, gets a stout 300 horsepower. The diesel xDrive35d pushes 265 horsepower, but adds a bounty of torque--425 pound-feet from 1,750-2,250 rpm. The V-8 xDrive50i scores 400 horsepower, but pays the price with fuel economy at 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. The gasoline inline six rates slightly better at 16/23 mpg, while the diesel is the winner in the X5 range, rated by the EPA at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. The new eight-speed automatic transmission helps achieve these figures, and handles shifts smoothly and quickly whether driving sedately or pushing toward redline.
There's another mount in the stable as well, a fierce one: the 555-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 X5 M. It's more of an oversized performance hatchback than a big-engined SUV, but its fuel economy (12/17 mpg) and price tag ($85,000 and up) reflect that reality. Due to its extra power, the X5 M soldiers on with a six-speed automatic.
The 2011 BMW X5, like those before it, exhibits an uncanny ability to handle and turn for such a large, tall vehicle. It rolls quickly to its maximum angle, sets, and holds the road well. Transitional ability isn't as good as the sports car-like acceleration you can get, but that's to be expected with such a high center of gravity.
For those less apt to push the limits, there are sophisticated stability control, traction control, and all-wheel systems to help keep things in check during emergency maneuvers or low-traction conditions such as snow or heavy rain. The optional sport package adds 19-inch wheels, all-season run-flat tires, and BMW's AdaptiveDrive dynamic damping and stability control system that lets you push the X5 further while still providing a safety net. Even without it, hwoever, the X5 is the epitome of composure. The X5 M magnifies all of these traits to almost unbelievable levels.